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The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

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What life lessons does The Color Purple by Alice Walker teach?

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One major life lesson in Celie's life is the power of her perseverance in the face of extreme abuse, oppression, loneliness, and pain. Even when her mother curses Celie as she dies for things her father put upon her, she does not get angry about the unfairness or complain about the circumstances. Instead, she pushes forward and focuses on her and her sister's well-being very intensely.

The Color Purple displays and encourages the resilience of Celie's spirit throughout the book. When positive things come to Celie, like the discovery of her children, Sofia's friendship, or the reunion with Nellie, they come because of her ability to move forward in her life and maintain a reflective outlook about her past. The book's ending suggests that such strength will be rewarded eventually, as both Shug and Nettie return.

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In the text, Celie has to redefine God for herself, dissociating him from the white people and the men who oppress her, in order to reach a place of peace. Once she does so, beginning with Shug's own unique ideas about God but combining them with her own experiences as well as what she reads about Nettie's experiences with the Olinka and their views of God, she begins to develop her own ideas, associating God with nature and confidence. These developments seem to indicate the importance of not accepting someone else's view of God if that God does not inspire and empower the believer; instead, we must define God, find God, for ourselves.

Further, Celie's pants business appears to symbolize the arbitrariness of the perceived inequality between the sexes. Anyone, Walker seems to say, "can wear the pants." Men are no more deserving of the right to objectify and abuse women than women are of men. So when Harpo beats Sofia, Sofia beats him right back. Celie does not only create and run her own business, she also makes a living creating an article of clothing historically associated with men and with men's power over women. Instead of power being somehow intrinsically located within men, anyone can be strong and powerful, but no one has the right to overpower another person.

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This question has so many potential answers!  This novel is so rich with life lessons that every reader could potentially take something different away from his/her reading of the text.  I will give you a couple of ideas by sharing briefly some life lessons that I have taken from Walker's Pulitzer-Prize winning story:

First, The Color Purple teaches that women, with the help and support of other women, can endure unbelievable hardships, difficulties, and struggles and not only survive, but also prosper.  It teaches that women can actually survive without depending upon men.  In an interview, Alice Walker sums up this idea:

"It's a book mostly about women, and what they're doing, and how they're carrying on no matter what the men are doing . . . I think that for many men at that time it was a shock that you could actually write a novel with women at the centre."

Second, this novel teaches that with forgiveness and reconciliation comes peace.  As terrible as Albert treats Celie, she finds it within herself to reconcile herself with him by the end of the story.  This is not for his sake; it is for hers.  She has learned by this time to seek for peace within herself from a most unlikely source--Shug Avery:

“Here's the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it."

Celie searches for God throughout the story by writing letters to her perception of who God is, but it is not until her perception is changed that she finds Him.  This comes with finding peace within herself.


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